What It Really Means to Pray ‘In Jesus’ Name’

The words are common, but do we understand their importance?

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Praying in Jesus' name

We do it all the time. Automatically, perhaps. Even unthinkingly. 

Many Christians pray “in Jesus’ name.” It’s a common coda to our prayers. For many of us, it’s something we learned to say early in our praying lives, in keeping with what Jesus told His followers: “Whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you” (John 15:16, NIV). But what does it mean? And are we using it properly? 

When my father entered a retirement community, he signed a sheaf of papers granting me “power of attorney.” It was, of course, a safeguard. If he became unable to pay his own bills, make his own decisions, or even sign his name (as eventually happened), I was empowered to act on his behalf, with the understanding that I should (if possible) consult him and always act in keeping with his wishes.

That’s something like what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.” It’s not an addendum. It’s not punctuation. It’s empowerment to speak and act on Jesus’ behalf, with the understanding that we should consult Him and always act in keeping with His wishes.

It’s an echo of Jesus’ own prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He repeatedly prayed, “Not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NIV). Or, as He told His followers, “I can't do anything on My own. As I listen [to the Father], I make My judgments. My judgments are right because I don't try to do what I want but what the one who sent Me wants” (John 5:30, GWT). 

That is why, as Mother Teresa said, “Listening is the beginning of prayer.” And author Robert Benson agrees, saying, “I need to listen, listen for the prayer of God that is rising in my heart, perhaps for the prayer that I should be praying rather than the one that I am praying.”

If I’m going to truly pray “in the name of Jesus,” I must begin by asking and listening to discern what Jesus wants. My hope is to think His thoughts and then to act in keeping with His will. Then I will begin to experience the fulfillment of Jesus’ promises about prayer, those promises that seem to go unfulfilled when my prayers are focused on what I want, how I want it and when I want it. Not that sometimes God doesn’t surprise me by answering those prayers, too. 

But I’m hoping that the prayers I pray in my own name, so to speak, may decrease, and I may more habitually listen for the prayer of God that is rising in my heart, and pray that…in Jesus’ name.

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